Portugal-Korea DPR

Portugal-Korea DPR

By Matt O'Leary

I landed in Cape Town yesterday and it is a world apart from the JohannesburgPretoria area. It is a picturesque city overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with the beautiful Table Mountain and 12 Apostles cliffs in the backdrop. Cape Towns newly constructed Green Point Stadium sits just below the scenic Signal Hill and is located only a few hundred yards back from the waterfront. Green Point Stadium was hosting its fourth match of the tournament and it welcomed Group G rivals Portugal and Korea DPR to the African continents most southern city.

Sunday had been a day of bright sunshine and cloudless skies but Monday felt like a winter morning in San Francisco. Fog and mist covered the city and the nearby Table Mountain, and a heavy rain set in for much of the morning leading up to the 1:30pm kickoff. The rain had slowed on our drive in and we parked in a coffee shops private lot about a mile from the stadium. Cape Town was the first of the five stadiums I have visited that has had any bars or restaurants close to the stadium. Local police had blocked off a 20-yard wide segment of one of the citys main streets for the fans to walk on towards the stadium. This street was lined with stall after stall serving food, merchandise, coffee, biltong, all sorts of things. This has been a traditional set up on walks to stadiums in previous World Cups and even in domestic leagues matches but it was the first of this sort that we had seen in South Africa.

Maybe the rain dampened the Portuguese fans spirits but there was no singing or atmosphere leading up to the stadium. It seemed like we were walking towards the stadium with a bunch of neutrals, but once inside there was much more Portugal support than anything else. I was able to spot the 100 North Korean fans that had been photographed so frequently at their first match against Brazil. They were sitting across the stadium from me, wearing their matching red sweatshirts and pants and constantly waving their miniature North Korean flags.

I cannot confirm if this is true or not but the South African newspapers reported that the North Korean fans at the Brazil game had been hired by their government to come to South Africa. The newspaper reported that the group was comprised of Chinese actors, as well as Chinese citizens that had been bribed with a paid trip to South Africa if they would attend the games dressed and behaving in an identical manner. Hard to say if this rumor is true or not, but there was a greater number of North Korea fans at this game than the small group that saw them play against Brazil in Johannesburg.

Enough about its fans, on to the match where North Korea proved themselves second best. The match started brightly with both sides having a goal attempt in the first six minutes. It could even be argued that for the first 20 minutes Korea DPR was creating more going forward. It looked to be a fairly even game and then the Portuguese cracked the Korean defense with a perfectly weighted through ball that Raul Merieles latched onto and slotted past the goalkeeper. After that, Portugal dominated the last 15 minutes but failed to score again before halftime.

There was still a sense of concern surrounding the Portuguese fans at halftime; knowing that a high goal difference mattered in Group G and that their team had not been clinical enough in front of goal so far. Portugal, captained by Ronaldo, started the second half confidently and soon found themselves 2 goals to the good in the 53rd minute. From there, the floodgates opened and you could see the North Korean heads dropping. Once the third goal went in a few minutes later, the North Koreans looked completely deflated and I could tell that the Portuguese were heading for 5 or 6. Well the number ended up being 7 and the goals were scored by six different Portuguese players, a statistic that will do wonders for their confidence. The team played the ball around with ease in the second half, and although they were playing against a poor team, they did look fluent in their communication and passing and showed themselves to be a difficult team to contain offensively.

After being touted as the team that could be the heavy casualty of Group G's "group of death", Portugal could now beat Brazil and advance to the knockout round as group winners.

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team


Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.